Zawahiri speech, though confused, shows U.S. is still main al-Qaeda target

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Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last month delivered a recorded audio speech on the occasion of the September 11 twin attacks. Analyzing this speech helps understand al-Qaeda’s current situation and strategy in the near future. Below is a analysis of some of the key points:

America: Enemy number one

As usual, al-Zawahiri began by stating that the U.S. failed in Afghanistan and Iraq and that the U.S. failed to achieve its goal of eliminating al-Qaeda.

This rhetoric aims to make al-Qaeda members and sympathizers feel secure after the death of the organization’s founder Osama Bin Laden. It also serves the American desire to maintain the presence of an ongoing permanent terrorist threat.

Al-Zawahiri did not mention other Western countries during his speech, chosing to focus on the U.S. alone. But al-Zawahiri also repeated a strange and a dangerous idea. He described American president Barack Obama as an apostate - someone who has followed and then rejected Islam. Many extremist groups’ have a different attitude towards infidels and apostates; according to them, the latter must be killed in all cases. Al-Zawahiri thus targeted Obama on a personal level. Stating that Obama is an apostate is a factual error, which is unacceptable by those who have studied Islamic sharia. But al-Zawahiri made the statement anyway and many supporters are likely to have accepted it.

Al-Zawahiri directed his followers towards individual jihad in order to destabilize America and its allies via suicide operations. Al-Qaeda's increase of these operations in the last five years indicates its organizational and security crisis.

Al-Zawahiri and Mursi

Al-Zawahiri addressed the June 30 Egyptian revolution. His statements indicated that violence and jihad are the only possible option for Islamic and jihadi groups. He thus criticized the Muslim Brotherhood and its democratic methods. He also criticized Mursi, saying Egypt’s former president did not govern according to sharia. He implied that any concept that does not entail violence and jihad is rejected - even if it leads to power.

Al-Qaeda’s visions and strategies

In the second part of the speech, al-Zawahiri said that al-Qaeda wants the ‘Islamic nation’ to willingly and consensually choose a caliphate to govern it. But he contradicts himself: While he says the ‘nation’ should choose its leader, he has already rejected the concept of elections and criticized Islamic movements’ engagement in electoral processes.

Al-Zawahiri also attempted to respond to statements criticizing some of al-Qaeda’s actions like killing Muslims. Al-Zawahiri denies that. But at another point during the speech, he called on the Egyptians to fight inside their own Muslim country.

Towards the end of his speech, al-Zawahiri attempts to confirm that he’s got the entire organization’s fighting battalions under his command. But there are several groups which no longer follow him. Al-Zawahiri thus lives the delusion of comprehensive control.

Al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda thus have two areas of concern: the first is America and the second is the Arab Spring countries. Hostility between al-Qaeda and America must continue for the interests of both parties: enmity with America serves the interest of al-Qaeda, and vice versa. It’s also important to invest in the state of chaos inside countries of revolutions. This achieves American and Israeli orientations in the region.

The recorded audio revealed that al-Zawahiri has begun to suffer from frustration and incapability of activating al-Qaeda's strengths.

Western influences

Despite al-Zawahiri’s weakness, al-Qaeda remains an organization with solid intellect. It continues to possess enough tools that help it unite and be influential at any time.

Al-Zawahiri’s speech included reference to research carried out by foreign writers, originally written in English. So is al-Qaeda making a good follow-up on western researches and studies? Or do the group’s western supporters now have an influence within the organization?

Regardless of that, the most important point of the speech is that America will remain the first target of al-Qaeda members’ operations as per the strategy of individual jihad - which is the only means left for the organization.